On the (In)Significance of English Language Variation: Cherokee English and Lumbee English in Comparative Perspective

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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The Eastern Band of Cherokee in the western mountains of North Carolina and the Lumbee Indians in the eastern sand hills of North Carolina represent two of the most significant American Indian groups east of the Mississippi River, but the symbolic role of English language variation differs dramatically. Descriptive sociolinguistic and perceptual studies demonstrate the uniqueness of Lumbee English as an ethnolinguistic repertoire. The English spoken by the Cherokee is strongly influenced by vernacular Southern Appalachian English, complemented by some substrate features from Cherokee that results in a variety of “Cherokee English.” The narrative analysis of more than 20 hours of video footage in terms of space, place, and identity indicates that the groups share the construct of “Talking Indian” but in contrastive ways. For the Lumbee, an ethnicized repertoire of English is embraced as “Indian Talk” whereas the Eastern Band of Cherokee define this construct exclusively as a discrete, endangered heritage language that erases variation in English. The analysis indicates that “place as location” and “place as meaning” are integrated and interactive. Meaning may be emplaced in physical region but it can also supersede it. The comparison further illustrates that a dynamic, critical historical perspective and interactive discourse are critical to the perspective of Heimat in language variation, and that interpretive forms of ethnographic study are complementary to the quantitative study of language variation.

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